Full Metal Yakuza
by Del Harvey
True to Miike’s philosophy of globalization setting adrift people from their cultures, Full Metal Yakuza is not just an absurdist adapting of Robocop.
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Japanese director Takashi Miike’s films are constantly investigating the realms of being lost in one’s own skin, as a wanderer is never home, even when he is in his own homeland. In Full Metal Yakuza, when a low-level and cowardly Yakuza is killed, he is resurrected by an eccentric scientist, his wimpy little body replaced by impervious metal parts and computer chips which render him invincible. This is ironically pathetic, because even he wishes for release from the pain of his existence by death, which is now all but impossible. He struggles with his understanding of the Yakuza code of honor, even after dying and resurrection, as much as he struggles with understanding what his life means.
Star Tsuyoshi Ujiki is best known in Japan as a rock star with Kodomo Band, and a complete unknown here in the States. He does a fine job in this eccentric, low-brow take off on Paul Verhoeven’s original, which is vastly different in theme from this film. Miike takes parody to new heights with his rendition, mixing comedy with a strong psychosexual undercurrent. True to the Japanese Yakuza tradition, Miike’s robo-man sticks to swordplay, relying only occasionally on guns. Here we see the beginnings of Miike’s love of violence, not nearly as heavily oversaturated as later films such as Dead or Alive or Ichi the Killer, but most assuredly evident. In an odd way, this penchant for violence and gore makes Miike an equal with Tarantino and Rodriguez. There is an absurdity at work here in Miike’s combination of comedy and cheesy effects, but it works.
Ultimately, Full Metal Yakuza is about how power corrupts, and the inevitable self-destruction which follows. Miike’s characters are largely two dimensional, but in this instance that’s fine, because Full Metal Yakuza is a comic-book reinterpretation that is funny, quirky, and perfectly camp, for all the right reasons.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, and teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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